The Replacement Soldier - Pfc Dalton F Williams of Merrill's Marauders & Mars Task Force
Pfc Dalton F Williams of Merrill's Marauders & Mars Task Force
By Sandy Williams DriverPfc Dalton F Williams
His Honorable Discharge states his military occupation as a Trooper (Expert: M-1 rifle). To Merrill’s Marauders in Burma during World War II, he was known as a replacement soldier, a member of the “Mars Task Force.” To me, he was just Daddy.
Dalton Franklin Williams was born in Dekalb County in Alabama on March 9, 1925 to Frank and Dorothy Williams. The family owned a small farm and struggled daily with nature to provide food and clothing for their twelve children.
In 1944, on Dalton’s 19th birthday, he made a decision that would affect him for the rest of his life: he joined thousands of other young men and became a soldier to do his part for his country in the ongoing conflict, World War II. After he joined, he passed his physical examination at Fort McPherson, Georgia and on March 30 was officially inducted into the United States Army. He soon boarded a train and headed for a Cavalry recruiting center in Fort Riley, Kansas where he underwent a vigorous basic training over the next several weeks.
The call came in early that summer from Burma that a group of men known as Merrill’s Marauders was in dire need of fresh recruits. The American Long Range Penetration Unit commanded by Brigadier General Frank Marauder had been formed the year before in August 1943 by three thousand volunteer soldiers. Their mission was to traverse behind enemy lines in Burma and destroy Japanese supply lines and communications while the attempt was made to re-open the Burma Road. After months of heavy combat, the surviving Marauders needed replacements due to the overwhelming number lost to combat wounds and disease.
Dalton, along with thousands of other dismounted cavalrymen, answered the call. His orders to “ship out” were the beginning of a combat career he could have never imagined in his wildest dreams. He travelled to California by train and there he boarded the SS George M. Randall and set sail for the Asiatic-Pacific. After brief stops in the Fiji Islands and Melbourne, Australia, the eager recruits arrived in Bombay in September, just over a month later.
An expert trooper, Dalton joined the other replacement soldiers who had recently formed the 475th Infantry Brigade. These naïve, brave young men underwent a hasty, intense jungle training in India before beginning their march through extremely dense jungles to reach Burma and join forces with the surviving Marauders to become known as the “Mars Task Force,” a Ranger-type unit. The dismounted cavalry unit still wore their high-top cavalry boots as they began their march into combat.
The men who fought in Burma were up against one of the world’s worst climates and forbidding terrains. They scaled jagged mountains, hacked their way through dense jungles, crossed swiftly-flowing rivers, and battled with exotic animals. It rained as much as fifteen inches a day, miring the soldiers up to their calves in thick mud. Swarms of black flies and bushes heavily laden with blood-sucking leeches drove the men to a frenzy. In the sweltering jungles, the temperature rose to 130 degrees and the humidity was overpowering. Breathing was difficult and sleeping was impossible.
The soldier’s diets consisted of rice taken from villages, animals slaughtered in the jungle, and old Army rations left over from WWI, which were air dropped at sporadic intervals. These problems were minor, however, to the ever present threat of being targeted by a sniper’s bullet or running into the Japanese Army. Despite all this, the swift moving, hard hitting young men repeatedly defeated the veteran soldiers of Japan, who vastly outnumbered the American soldiers.
On November 17, 1944, the soldiers began another killing hike. Dalton was in Company E of the 2nd Battalion. They marched ninety-eight miles only at night and dug fox holes to hide in during the sultry daylight hours. On December 8, at Tonkwa, in North Burma, they raided a Japanese out-post. On December 15, with their communications cut by raids and ambushes, the Japanese evacuated Burma. On that day, casualties were light, but at 1200 hours, Private Dalton F. Williams was struck by a .25 caliber Japanese bullet during the final hours of enemy action. The bullet entered his left hand at the index finger, traumatically amputating it, and then traversed through the 3rd and 4th fingers, where it exited, taking the tip of the pinkie with it.
His hand was hastily bandaged as he was carried on a make-shift stretcher, probably made by his comrades from bamboo and field jackets, to an evacuation point in a small nearby village. A small Piper Cub Evacuation Plane, with only enough room for the pilot and a stretcher, carried the injured soldier to the 48th Evacuation Hospital where he was stabilized. Five days later, he was flown to the 20th General Hospital in India where he underwent two surgeries over the next eight weeks to try and repair the damage to his hand. He was then transferred to the 181st General Hospital for about a month.
Dalton arrived back in the good old USA in March 1945 with a promotion to Private First Class. He spent a short time in the State Hospital in New York, and then a month at Finney General Hospital in Georgia before being transferred to Northington General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He spent several months there where he underwent more painful, unsuccessful surgeries. In one attempt to graph skin onto the injured fingers, his left hand was surgically sewn to his stomach for a several weeks. One doctor that year even suggested in his report that the entire left hand should be amputated. It was noted the patient adamantly refused.
In those hospital rooms, I’m sure my father relieved the weary hours of moving through the Burmese jungles. His nightmares were probably filled with leeches, stinging insects, poisonous snakes, rain, mud, chattering baboons, the unbearable heat, hastily dug fox-holes and the stench of dead Japanese bodies. Finally on October 12, 1945, Pfc. Dalton F Williams was given an Honorable Discharge from the United States Army and sent home to his waiting family.
The terrors of the jungle left permanent marks on the soldiers of Burma. After returning to civilian life, several found themselves ill at ease around bright lights and crowds and sometimes even around their own family. This was the father I knew.
Dalton was a quiet man and never spoke a word to anyone about his military career. I have been amazed this past year as I began to discover the horrific trauma Dad suffered when he was just a young man. I’m sure my research only touched the surface of the shocking realities and horrors he witnessed during World War II. Even though he was only in combat a few short months, he most likely suffered a silent Hell plagued with those terrible memories until the day he died on May 28, 1999.
I was taken aback when I began my research of reconstructing his military career to discover that Dad’s discharge papers stated “no wounds received in action”. I have learned this was a common error in the post-war times of 1945 when overworked Army clerks filled out thousands of forms each day. By working with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, I learned the truth when I received copies of Dad’s entire medical file. Hundreds of hours searching for information on the Internet and numerous telephone calls and several letters to surviving Veterans have also helped me greatly in my quest.
With the assistance of Congressman Robert Aderholt, I was recently issued the long overdue and much deserved medals my father earned so long ago, but never received. They include the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, a Good Conduct Medal, an American Campaign Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, a WWII Victory Medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge, an Honorable Service Lapel Button, and an Expert Badge with Rifle Bar.
I love my father deeply and still miss him so much. Now that his great accomplishments and sacrifices to our great country have been recognized at last, I have never been more proud to call Private First Class Dalton F Williams, my daddy.